Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp

Marvel Studios is back with the sequel to 2015’s (not such a) surprise hit, Ant-Man.  This time, Scott Lang has a partner as the Wasp is not only formally introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (though the original Janet Van Dyne version had a cameo in Ant-Man) but shares headlining status, making her the first female character to ever have their name in the title of a Marvel Studios film – even if she has to share it.  It has taken a while, not because Marvel has been resistant, but because they needed to condition the audience to accept it.

The reason for that, of course, is that, for all the progressive talk people spew, when push comes to shove and they see the forward progress in action . . . well, many often push and shove against it.  But the fine folk at Marvel have been getting inside people’s heads for years and understand how they work.  And now we’re here and everybody seems really excited about the prospects.  And if they’re as excited about the prospects as my audience was with this film, tonight, then Marvel has it made for a long time to come.

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I’m not going to get into any storyline specifics, here, because this is a Marvel Studios film and those should be discovered the right way: by watching the movie.  But, most of the original cast is back, with Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Pym/The Wasp, Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, as well as Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer (putting her back in my good graces after 2018’s Great Debacle), David Dastmalchian, Tip “T. I.” Harris, and Abby Ryder Fortson all reprising their roles from the first film.  Throw in the great Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne/the original Wasp, Hannah John-Kamen as villain Ghost, Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster, Walton Goggins as Sonny Burch, and a scene-stealing supporting turn by Randall Park and there’s almost more talent here than one can handle.  But we’re used to that from Marvel, by now, aren’t we?

I’ll give a little bit of insight into the story only to draw a comparison between this film and Infinity War.  That film was all about Thanos trying to strike a balance in the universe.  Here, we see a parallel between Thanos and Scott, but in making that comparison, we must also note the stark contrast between the two characters and the lives they live.  We see Scott also struggling to strike a balance, but only within his own personal universe, as he’s constantly forced to choose between his family and his more professional responsibilities.  But when one’s professional responsibilities are less along the lines of making an appearance at a board meeting and hew more closely to saving the lives of handfuls of people, that choice isn’t as simple as it may seem to the uninitiated.  But it also emphasizes the idea that a universe is relative and Scott’s attempts at striking a balance is every bit as important to him as Thanos’s was to Thanos.  We truly are the heroes of our own stories.

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But that’s where the similarities between the two films (mostly) end.  Ant-Man and the Wasp serves as a refreshing palate cleanser following the heavy events seen in Infinity War.  It’s among the funniest and lightest of the MCU films, and is sure to function extremely well as a rousing crowd-pleaser.  Not that there aren’t stakes, but director Peyton Reed has never appeared so confident and it’s readily apparent that he and Marvel were perfectly fine with taking the more eccentric elements of the first film and running with them at top speed.  The fact of the matter is that Marvel has done a great job of differentiating each of their various franchises but this particular property offers up material, visuals, and an overall aesthetic that can’t be found in any other film series – Marvel or otherwise.  And that counts for something.

Paul Rudd is one of the greatest comedic actors in film, today, and he gets to do his thing, here.  It’s completely natural for him and the film is funnier than the first (though I still think the character was slightly funnier in Captain America: Civil War).  Michael Peña brings the laughs, too, and I can already envision the bootleg t-shirts featuring references to the film’s running gags that will pop up for sale on Facebook, anytime.  (Don’t buy those, people, come on.  Give your money to the folks directly responsible for your entertainment.)  The laughs were long, loud, and frequent in my screening, but catch the film, this weekend, before the casual audiences who don’t understand any humor outside of slapstick – and don’t seem to enjoy any aspect of life, at all, really – move in and dampen the experience.  Every single one of you knows what I’m talking about and don’t you dare pretend, otherwise.

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The characters benefit from being in a sequel and having established relationships.  Now that we and they know who the principles are, we get to see those relationships mature and evolve.  Though the characters know each other, they are still figuring out what they mean to each other and where they fit into each other’s lives.  You can hear through the script and see through the performances each character struggling with this and I appreciated that touch of realism amidst all of the physical insanity playing out around them.  Marvel has always appealed to audiences because of their relatable characters and this film stays grounded in that sense and does so in a way that’s especially elegant, even when compared to other Marvel Studios films.

In reference to the aforementioned content that can’t be found in other franchises, the action in the film is at once spectacular, innovative, and immensely gratifying.  The Ghost effects are subtle but brilliant, and the climactic conflict is a nonstop thrill ride that goes on for what must have been twenty or thirty minutes.  Maybe it just felt that long to me, but that ultimate showdown is frantic and gripping and I would have had no problem with it continuing for as long as Reed and Marvel saw fit.  I was once again immensely impressed with the script during this finale and how it navigated from a given character’s decision-making to both its immediate and far-reaching consequences, and then the various other characters’ disparate reactions to said decision-making, which started the process all over again.  The cast and crew made it all look easy but I assure you that it wasn’t and the script is not going to get the appreciation that it deserves.

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People will find things to whine about.  They’ll whine that Ghost was gender-swapped, seeing as the comics version is male.  These people likely never cared about Ghost, before, and most probably didn’t even know who Ghost was until it was announced that the character would be adapted for this film.  They also won’t care that Ghost’s gender is entirely irrelevant and that Hannah John-Kamen does a great job with the part.  This film is all about treating men and women as true equals and with two female heroes (including one with title status) and a female villain, Marvel uses the movie as an opportunity to truly accentuate the worthiness of women in blockbuster cinema.  (And just wait until March of next year!)

I also actually saw someone say that the film – and this is a direct quote – was “too much fun”.  What the $^*#@^-ing #!%^&* is wrong with people that they have to be so pretentious and so too-cool-for-school that they feel the impulse to claim that having a lot of fun at the movies is a bad thing?  “Yeah, if only the movie hadn’t been that great . . . that would have been great.”  Just stop.  If that’s you, just stop.  Don’t comment here, trying to justify that viewpoint.  I don’t want to hear it.  These movies are supposed to be fun.  This movie, specifically, is supposed to be fun.  Anyone so desperate to find flaw with something designed to bring, and successful at bringing, people joy and happiness – anyone so childish as to try to talk people out of enjoying something that’s meant to be enjoyed simply because it doesn’t fall within their own personal narrow-minded worldview of what they want that piece of art to be, really needs to stop taking themselves so seriously.  It’s okay to love things, kids.  It’s okay to enjoy life, once in a while.  And it’s okay to admit that you loved this film.  This isn’t just your movie; it’s everyone’s.

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Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what these people say or do, Ant-Man and the Wasp is going to be another success for Marvel Studios, and rightfully so.  While the first film was very good, this one is flat-out tremendous in every way it aspires to be, delivering what audiences expect and more.  With each new Marvel Studios film, it seems as if people declare it to be non-formulaic, as if that’s a surprise, by now.  Well, this is another one that bucks formula, embraces its roots, moves the genre forward, and will have people talking, laughing, and smiling all the way home.  So, it’s just another day at the office for Marvel.  By the way, at the end there is both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.  The mid-credits scene got the biggest response I’ve ever heard after any mid- or post-credits scene in any film.  Don’t be foolish enough to skip out on it.  And don’t be foolish enough to skip out on Ant-Man and the Wasp . . . unless you just can’t handle all of the fun.

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